Nobel Peace Prize recipient discusses nuclear weapons treaty

By Katherine Esten

(Jessica Picard/ Daily Collegian)

Richard Moyes, co-founder of the non-profit organization Article 36, as well as member of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, presented a lecture concerning international weapons law in the Commonwealth Honors College Events Hall on Tuesday.

His lecture, titled, “Deciding How We Are Allowed to Kill Each Other: Controlling Weapons in International Law,” explored the process in creating the recent Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, a piece of legislation recently passed in the United Nations.

Moyes, who was involved in the process since the early planning stages in 2011, placed an emphasis on the role of states and civil society in framing issues of concern in developing legal responses to nuclear weapons.

“It requires quite a lot of belief, and maybe arrogance, to go from ‘we’re going to do this’ to actually making it happen,” Moyes said.

ICAN was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017 for its work developing the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Moyes explained that the entire process took a few years longer than expected, but the negotiations still went quickly.

Before moving into the policy change, Moyes explained that the early stages of the treaty were developed around a humanitarian initiative. “Having a clear goal” was the start to the process, from which strong arguments and coalitions could develop.

Accoring to Moyes, the humanitarian initiative around which the treaty was based was the “straightforwardly horrific effects” of nuclear weapons. He continued that the testimony of victims and survivors was critical to the eventual passage of the treaty.

“[We, society] don’t have the capability to provide a meaningful response,” Moyes said.

Moyes also highlighted how opposition to the treaty from nuclear-armed states made the humanitarian initiative necessary. He explained that, because nuclear-armed states, such as the United States, Great Britain, Russia and France, remained uninvolved in the treaty process, the “prohibition” of nuclear weapons would come before elimination.

“They’re all in favor of getting rid of nuclear weapons,” Moyes said. “They just need to solve national security, social issues and basically establish world peace. They’ll fix all the other problems in the world, and then endorse the treaty.”

A majority of the treaty process was carried out through the work of non-governmental organizations and eventually was transferred through conferences to the “Humanitarian Pledge,” issued at the Vienna Conference of 2014.

“All this is about normal people finding ways to interact with very high level power structures,” Moyes said.

Rebecca Raskob, a senior political science and French & Francophone studies student, attended the lecture and appreciated learning more about work in non-governmental organizations with different levels of government and lobbyists.

“My big takeaway would be how much went into the groundwork [of the treaty], in persuading people to care about your cause and the networking in getting people together,” Raskob said.

Jamie Rowen, an assistant professor of legal studies at UMass, said that Moyes’s presentation was very “thought provoking,” and that it was very good for students to hear. Rowen also reflected on the effect of the nuclear prohibition treaty on the movement to remove nuclear weapons from our society.

“We should celebrate every achievement,” Rowen said, “but also maintain a self-perspective about what the effects of the treaty are.”

Kathrine Esten can be reached at [email protected]